Thinking in Pictures provides insight in this regard because it was written by an insider. As the title denotes, Grandin thinks in pictures. She writes:
My imagination works like the computer graphics programs that created the lifelike dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. When I do an equipment simulation in my imagination or work on an engineering problem, it is like seeing it on a videotape in my mind. I can view it from any angle, placing myself above or below the equipment and rotating it at the same time. I don't need a fancy graphics program that can produce three-dimensional design simulations. I can do it better and faster in my head.
I create new images all the time by taking many little parts of images I have in the video library in my imagination and piecing them together. I have video memories of every item I've ever worked with -- steel gates, fences, latches, concrete walls, and so forth. To create new designs, I retrieve bits and pieces from my memory and combine them into a new whole. My design ability keeps improving as I add more visual images to my library. I add video-like images from either actual experiences or translations of written information into pictures.
Further, Grandin recalls that she did poorly in math as a student. Math is pure abstraction. Without a visual association, she appears to be at a loss.
Before I read Thinking in Pictures, I watched this video of Grandin, in which she displays modest wit, charm and humor. So I was surprised to learn that, by her admission, she has almost zero social intuition. That is, she doesn't intuit social cues. She studies them, like a scientist, and has learned to mimick them.
While Temple Grandin's accomplishments are extraordinary, I'm not certain that her mind isn't ordinary in the autistic sense, or generally representative of the way many autistics think. Research seems to suggest that her thinking is rather, for lack of a better word, typical. For an atypical thinker.